Understanding and promoting earnest completion in online textbooks


Chelsea Gordon
Research Lead at zyBooks

Frank Vahid
Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, Riverside - also with zyBooks

Roman Lysecky
Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Arizona

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Digital textbooks are becoming more common in college-level computer, engineering, and science courses. For various reasons, some students quickly click on reading activities to earn completion points, without earnestly attempting the activities. We analyzed student earnestness in digital computer science and engineering textbooks across a semester. We found that student earnestness declines significantly as the semester progresses. We also found that earnestness levels at a semester’s start have a tremendous impact on earnestness throughout the semester, namely that lower average earnestness at a semester’s onset leads to a significantly more rapid decline. For example, one course with an initial 90% earnestness score fell to 76% by week 6, whereas another course with an initial 72% score dropped dramatically to just 32% by week 6. This finding emphasizes the importance of instructors ensuring students recognize the utility of the textbook activities from a course’s start, and ensure that the activity workload is reasonable too, to start students with high earnestness. We close with recommendations for encouraging earnest completion early in the semester, which is crucial for maintaining earnest completion throughout the course.

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